More than Community Chest – United Way of Siouxland

Situated between Baltic Avenue and Mediterranean Avenue on the traditional Monopoly board you will find Community Chest. You’ve probably never thought twice about it, never imagined that it was more than a landing space of chance in a board game. However, in 1921, the organization now known as The United Way of Siouxland was founded under the name Community Chest. Its mission was to bring organizations together to help identify community needs, provide services to the poor, and raise funds to support their work. One hundred years later, with a new name and broader impact, the organization’s activity is remarkably similar. 

“Today, the United Way of Siouxland works with local agencies, businesses, government organizations and volunteers to focus resources on achieving community impact in health education, and financial stability around specific goals. Last year alone, 64 agencies received funding and over a dozen other partners worked in conjunction with the United Way to reduce the achievement gap in our schools, eliminate violence and improve access to health services” said Heather Hennings, president of The United Way of Siouxland. “Our focus is a little more tailored,” she continued, “we are solution focused. We are partnering with agencies to identify the root cause of systemic issues keeping people in poverty, impacting school achievement, and limiting self-sufficiency, then addressing those root issues for generational change.”   

Hennings is specifically referring to two things. One, their partnership with Source for Siouxland, which utilizes data and focus group teams to dive deeper into issues and search for solutions that impact the root cause, not simply a symptom.  The recommendations of this group can lead to new ideas to move the needle on data.

Second, The United Way of Siouxland is focused on funding agencies and programs that can demonstrate impact. There is an expectation that agencies provide data, reports and stories that show the work they do results in improved grades, better attendance rates in school, families moving from poverty to self-sufficiency and even senior citizens who maintain their independence for years longer than they might have without amazing programs.

The United Way of Siouxland’s current mission statement demonstrates the nuanced change in philosophy over the last 100 years,“To improve lives by uniting the caring power of our community.” The United Way of Siouxland is often a convener of groups and individuals. The organization is a consistent presence in community meetings focused on reducing juvenile justice involvement, increasing access to quality childcare, increasing mental health services, and responding to disasters in Siouxland. 

“In 2010, United Way of Siouxland partnered with local emergency professionals to launch the Siouxland Recovery Fund which helps coordinate resources for local disasters, Hennings explained. “The fund first became activated in 2011 with the Missouri River flood and was activated again for flooding in both 2018 and 2019. In 2020, the fund helped organizations and individuals weather the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Our role is to bring people, organizations, and funding together – we are uniting the power of caring in our community.”  

This power of collaboration is reflected in other changes that have occurred in the organization’s 100-year history. “In the 1960’s, Community Chest organizations around the country formed an alliance to better serve their communities and grow the fundraising campaigns in the workplace. This alliance became known as the United Fund and the Community Chest of Sioux City became the United Fund of Siouxland. A total of 16 agencies were members of the United Fund of Siouxland,” Hennings shared. “It did make a difference. In a few years we had grown to involve 22 agencies and set our first goal to raise $1,000,000 in the annual campaign in 1979. That’s quite a difference from the $165,000 goal of the very first campaign in 1921.” 

And while data and dollars are important to decision-making at the United Way, the impact on individuals is never far from mind. “We want people to know the impact even one dollar can make,” said Hennings, “and the best way to do that is to share stories of success. Our website, our quarterly posters, and our workplace campaigns always feature an agency or a recipient sharing a story of how a life has been positively impacted. We do what we do so every person in Siouxland can have an opportunity to know they are cared for and cared about. Many of us take this for granted, but for others it is life-changing, it sparks hope.”

Over the last 100 years, United Way of Siouxland has raised $132,038,989 and has served thousands upon thousands of individuals. One in three Siouxlanders will utilize support and services of United Way of Siouxland in their lifetime. Last year alone more than 34,000 services were provided by agencies receiving United Way funds. This year’s campaign slogan of “Get On The Bus” is an invitation to every person in Siouxland to become part of the impact. “People can get involved in so many ways,” Hennings added, “of course monetary donations are important, but we also need volunteers in our community. We need people to serve on boards, dive into data, serve as mentors, and more. Whatever your skill set or gift, there is a place for you to be part of the caring power of our community. Join us and ‘Get On The Bus’ as we drive forward into the future.”

By Dr. Cyndi Hanson

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